The Family's Response to the Canadian documentary, The Love Prophet and the Children of God
By Lonnie Davis
(The Family is a Bible-based international Christian fellowship dedicated to sharing God's Word and salvation through Jesus Christ with others. We seek to comfort, help and minister to those in need, endeavoring to follow the model of Jesus, who said His ministry was to "preach the Gospel to the poor…to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." [Luke chapter 4 verses 18 and 19]. To this end, Family members make considerable sacrifices of their time, finances and energy.)
DLI Productions, a Canadian based film company, recently produced a documentary on The Family, formerly known as The Children of God. The Family provided a great deal of historical and present-day footage for this documentary, as well as hundreds of hours of personal interviews with current and associate members in communities located in Canada and the US. A number of former members also conducted extensive interviews.
We applaud the efforts of the filmmakers to impartially present the viewpoints of former and current Family members, which is helpful for those seeking to better understand the Family. We also feel that great pains were taken to avoid the typical stereotypes associated with new religions, and much research was undertaken via Family archives and other sources.
We were disappointed to find, however, that the documentary focused in great part of casting the founder of our movement in a negative light. In was our understanding that this documentary was to focus on our present-day movement and our eschatological (Endtime) beliefs. Understandably, David Brandt Berg (1919-1994) is a controversial figure, who promoted unconventional beliefs found to be radical by most secular Christians. However, we feel that David Berg is vilified in this film's portrayal of him as a self-serving outlaw, practically void of true ideals and beliefs, rather than the Christian idealist and spiritual founder of an international Christian missionary movement which is still very active in over 80 countries of the world. The documentary neglects to make mention of the millions that have received the Gospel message as an outgrowth of David Berg's personal ministry and great desire to share the message of God's love and salvation with those in need. Although Father David laid no claim to infallibility and to the contrary was very candid about his personal shortcomings and failings, we do not believe this merits a slanted portrayal of his life and mission as founder of The Family.
Historically, the presentation in this film is often inaccurate. Disproved allegations promoted by anti-religious sectors serving their own agenda are parroted throughout. For example, David Berg's second wife Maria, was not a 19 year old minor when she married David, but rather an adult woman of 23 years. Also, David Berg was not expelled from his ministerial post because of sexual impropriety, but rather due to his attempts to racially integrate his church. The claim that David Berg was made to masturbate in front of his father is entirely false. Professionalism required that the producers of this documentary support their research with accurate, reliable third-party information rather than biased anti-religious sources. Historically, theologically and morally inaccurate statements thus presented falsely cast not only our founder in a negative light, but our present-day missionary movement as well.
As such, we were disappointed that the producers did not take a more professional even-handed approach in their portrayal of the Family. This treatment of our movement contrasts sharply to our experiences with scholars of religion who have published research on the Family. In formulating their appraisals, though critical at times, they have generally made an effort to be candid, objective and professional in their observations. Such candid yet unbiased critiques foster trust and openess. However, sad to say, we have not experienced the same fairness from the vast majority of the media who, while liberally dispensing promises of fair play, in the end have disseminated sensationalized and biased accounts which serve their own interest and the medium they cater too. Needless to say, such misrepresentations constrain us to respond and clarify our theology, present practices and belief system.
Law of Love
A Family tenet, known as "The Law of Love" is erroneously misrepresented in this film. Contrary to the statement made that the "Law of Love" was used to justify "just about anything", the Law of Love is the Biblical principle by which our entire lives, as Christians should be governed. Jesus summed it up very simply in the famous "Golden Rule", giving us the key to our relationships with others: "Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." (Mat. 7:12) Ideally, this loving principle should guide all of our actions with others. This is a belief that millions of Christians hold in common with us.
Controversy with many mainstream Christians often arises when we claim that the principle of the Law of Love can be carried over and applied to sexual interaction between consenting adults. It is our belief that if someone's actions are motivated by real, unselfish, even sacrificial love, God's love, and are not hurtful to anyone, those actions are in accordance with Scripture and are lawful in the eyes of God, despite the marital status of those involved. Although this permits us a greater degree of freedom in our relations with other, on the other hand, the Law of Love also imposes strict guidelines, as it declares that no relations should be practiced, permitted or pursued that is without the consent of any party directly or indirectly involved. It is no easy task to live Jesus' commandments of love. To love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind, to love others as ourselves, and to lay down our lives for others, all require living a life of self-sacrifice. It means putting Jesus first, others next, and ourselves last, which requires the supernatural love of God.
This Law of Love principle applies to every aspect of our Christian lives, and contrary to the implication in this documentary, not merely to sexual relationships.
Although some communities did film video recordings of semi-nude female members in the late '70s and early '80s, these "dance videos" were not hard-core pornography, as media sources would imply. Communities were told to halt such filming over ten years ago, when members collectively agreed to censor and destroy any questionable material found in any of our past publications or videos that seemed in any way offensive. Any such videotapes were subsequently erased and forbidden in our communities. These videos were not widely circulated in the Family nor were they sent "weekly as seductive packages" as claimed in the film.
The video clips shown in this film were stolen from an archive in the Philippines, which contained mostly historical footage and publications, along with some videotapes destined to be erased, but unfortunately forgotten. Subsequent to the theft by antagonistic former members, local authorities issued a warrant for the arrest of the perpetrators.
As believers in the Biblical view of creation, it is our belief that the human body is a natural and beautiful creation of God. Although in the past we would not take offense at classical, artistic poses of the human body, artfully and inoffensively posed, we no longer allow this margin of socially condoned liberality in our publications.
Investigations Carried out on Family Communities
In this documentary, mention is made of pre-dawn, Gestapo-style raids carried out upon the Family communities in Australia, Argentina, France and Spain. Although brief mention is made of the Family's vindication in each of these situations, we find it disturbing that this documentary focuses on disproved allegations of abuse, while the story goes untold of the hundreds of children in The Family who were brutalized and terrorized by paramilitary style raids. The dignity and human rights of these children were trounced upon as if they had no rights because of their adherence to a minority religion. This documentary seems to imply that the raids were carried out in response to cases of abuse, which is contradictory to the court findings in each of these situations.
After extensive physical, psychological and educational testing, the nearly 500 children taken into state care were found to be healthy, with no sign of abuse of any kind in a single case. Upon completing exhaustive investigations of our communities, lifestyle and the upbringing of our children, the courts have deemed Family environments as safe ones, including a British High Court. Resounding rulings were pronounced in several of these cases, both a Spanish and an Argentine court denouncing the abusive raids performed on Family members as "reminiscent of the Inquisition". (Full documentation available upon request).
Care and Protection of our Children
Throughout the documentary, references are made to allegations of abusive physical and sexual practices with minors. Any form of abuse, whether sexual, physical or otherwise is absolutely forbidden in our fellowship. Any infraction of this rule will result in immediate expulsion from our fellowship. We do not tolerate, condone or permit any inappropriate behavior with our children, whom we consider a precious gift from God to be protected and nurtured.
The Family recognizes that for a short, earlier period of our history our policies in this regard were not clearly articulated, which resulted in incidences of inappropriate behavior towards minors. This was officially corrected in 1986, when any sexual contact between an adult and minor was rendered an excommunicable offense. Since 1989, over 700 Family minors have been subjected to intense examination (over 10% of our entire child population) and every single one was found to be healthy and free of any abuse. This total absence of abuse speaks for the efforts made to safeguard children in Family communities. We would question whether the same statistics could be produced for children in society at large. In the USA, in 1990, there were 1,044,480 child victims of maltreatment (substantiated), of whom 130,248 had suffered sexual abuse. Over half of these victims were under 10 years of age. Statistics from: The United Nations Health Report of the Secretary-General on Domestic Violence, 20 July 1990; James Patterson and Peter Kim, "The Day America Told the Truth:; "Child Abuse: Statistics, Research, and Resources," Internet posting by Jim Hopper, Ph.D; Alan Guttmacher Institute; Page: 3 US Department of State: "Ukraine County Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997".
The Family's mission since its inception in 1968 has remained intact and unchanged throughout its 30-year history. The foundation of the Family is its firm belief in our God-given duty to obey Jesus' commandment to His disciples: "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." (Gospel according to Saint Mark, chapter 16, verse 15). This continues to be the main commission of Family members, besides that of giving our children the best Christian upbringing and education possible. We also engage in a wide range of missionary activities such as disaster relief, humanitarian aid distribution, visiting the sick and aged, helping the disadvantaged, poor and homeless and reaching out to troubled youth. If you are interested in further information on the Family, please visit our Web Site at: http://www.thefamily.org.
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